Hi! As you’re reading this, I’m done with undergrad, and I’m on a cruise with my parents, which makes me so happy because it’s the first time I’ve seen them in three months, and I love being on the water, and I would probably be freaking out a lot more if I weren’t occupied. Why? I’m really not so nervous to be done with college – I have a job – but I am actually kind of nervous to put all of this stuff into the world. Below, you will find all of the honesty that I haven’t felt fully comfortable sharing while I was in college.
I’ve been mentally writing pieces of this post since I was in my first year at the University of Chicago, because college disappointed the hell out of me, and I just wanted to tell someone that. And, frankly, I did tell a lot of people that. It took me a long time to get comfortable with it, but I fully own that truth now.
College wasn’t what I expected, and it certainly wasn’t better than I expected. That was really hard to come to grips with, and sometimes I still get teary when I think about it, but it’s really okay.
I poured a lot of time into this post, and I’m honored if you read any part of it. If you are up for reading the whole thing, just scroll through as normal. If you want to skip around or navigate to different parts/parts of interest, here’s a menu:
- Pre-College: How I ended up at UChicago
- First Year: Feeling like a failure, finding friends and a boyfriend, not loving life
- Second Year: All the econ, a bad living situation, and sort of settling in
- Third Year: Relaxing a little, gaining some confidence, and falling in love with a city
- Fourth Year: A quarter abroad, two bad classes, and a ton of travel
- Assorted Anecdotes: Moments that exemplify parts of my UChicago experience
- Favorite Classes: Discussing the classes I appreciated most
- In Conclusion: A synthesis of the lessons learned from my college experience
- TL;DR (too long;didn’t read): College in 150 words
Since I started this blog at the beginning of my first year at UChicago, I think I need to give you some background on me so that all of this makes sense.
I have always been under the impression that things should be challenging. I don’t know where I get it from – my dad says it’s abnormal – but it means that I was annoyed with school for most of my life because it wasn’t hard enough, and I was bored. I hated it when teachers didn’t hold us to high expectations. I loved the teachers everyone else disliked, because they were the ones who didn’t lower their standards to match students’ laziness.
All that said, I didn’t hate high school. I was sometimes bored. I applied to a bunch of extracurriculars to prove that I could get into them and eventually got burnt out. But I had fantastic friends, edited the school newspaper, was in student government, and was on pace from the first semester of my freshman year to be valedictorian. I was usually one of the smartest people in the room.
That’s not challenging, though. So, when I started looking at colleges, the Ivies were obviously appealing. I visited twenty schools of varying levels of academic rigor and prestige, and I fell in love with Yale, Wake Forest, UPenn, and UChicago at different times. I wanted to love schools I didn’t, like Harvard, Northwestern, Princeton, and Duke.
The College Decision
I’m lucky enough to have parents who saved enough money for me to go to college, so I had no financial limitations, and I wanted to go somewhere rigorous. I ended up only applying to six of the thirteen schools on my final list, and only two of those were the prestigious ones I really wanted. I applied early to UChicago, and when I found out I got in, I was thrilled and completely unmotivated to keep applying. I finished the UPenn application I had started, but decided not to apply to the schools I was no longer drawn to (Yale and Harvard) or any more safety schools. I got into UPenn, did overnight visits at both UChicago and UPenn, and UChicago just felt right.
Everyone said it was a difficult school, but that’s what I wanted, and it has an exceptional undergraduate Economics department that teaches in a way that closely resembles a graduate econ program, with lots of math to support it.
I still sometimes struggle with the fact that most people outside academics and the business world are under the impression that I wanted to leave Ohio to go to the big city and attend some random school that they’ve never heard of when UChicago is actually a top-three university according to a lot of rankings. The name doesn’t have the same instant impact as most Ivies, or even Stanford. Honestly, that’s probably helped check my ego over the last few years, though. Not that I needed help with that, as you’ll see.
I’m going to jump right into my time at UChicago here, because all I know about the in-between time is that I was not particularly nice to my family in the summer before I left for college. I guess I’ll blame it on anxiety, but either way, I’m really sorry about that.
I’ve told you this before, but UChicago starts your time on campus with O-Week, a week where the only people on campus are first years and a few upperclassmen who are helping get you oriented. I hated most of this week because I had already had a long summer of anticipation and just wanted to jump in.
Still, a few times, it felt like maybe I was making friends in my house and I tried to appreciate that. At UChicago, you live in a “house” of students of all ages and majors for at least your first year. Your house inhabits a certain space in the dorm, has a graduate student couple/family living there to host events and provide support, and ideally has people you click with.
Since I tend to gravitate toward older people, I found some friends in the O-Aides in my house, not just the first years. At the same time, I felt out of place because I loathed the one frat party I went to, wasn’t crazy about drinking excessively, and required decent amounts of sleep, which I can only get if I go to bed in good time.
I hit the jackpot of college schedules: class two days a week. I had days that extended from 9am to 4pm on Tuesdays and 9am to 12pm on Thursdays. As I got more used to being at UChicago, this would have been fine, but I was suddenly this unicorn who hardly had to leave my room, so I didn’t usually leave much. I wanted to study in a place where I could get up, walk around, and not have to worry about leaving my stuff alone, so I studied in my room. I woke up early, worked out, went to class (but only two days a week), studied, studied more, and blogged some before bed.
And school was kind of hard. And I was kind of depressed. I had never done a formal mathematical proof in my life. I was doing the part of calculus I hated (Taylor series aren’t my thing). My Philosophical Perspectives professor walked in on day one and told us we were incapable of writing good papers. Reading Aristotle is f*cking hard. My famous econ professor showed up to like three classes and had an okay assistant professor and two unhelpful TAs deal with the rest, making the class way rougher than it needed to be.
My stomach was a mess, and all the dining hall food was making everything feel worse. I subsisted on salads and deli meat for two meals a day, oatmeal and cottage cheese for the third, and was starving all the time. I lost a few pounds pretty quickly and noticed it and got nervous. I started going to the grocery store regularly to buy Greek yogurt, cereal, vegetables, eggs, and chicken sausages that I could prep and microwave on my own to supplement, which made the already-expensive dining plan seem more ridiculous. Soon, I mostly ate alone, which isn’t really the point of college. I was still starving all the time.
I discovered emotional eating when I had to write my first college papers (and it remained a big coping mechanism for the rest of my time in college). All the Oreos and protein bars in the world didn’t seem to satiate me. I was stressed and sad, and my grades weren’t as good as I wanted them to be.
My roommate and I had texted the whole drive to school, and I had hope for that relationship at least being friendly – we seemed similar enough – but that hope was lost pretty quickly. Within a few weeks, we were cordial or we didn’t talk. We had opposite schedules and opposite cleanliness habits. She came in late at night and the combination of light from the hall and slamming of the door woke me up at 3am countless times. Her laundry – clean and not – found its way onto my side of the room too often.
By the end of the first quarter, I had a couple of real friends, I think. I went out for a few dinners on Saturdays with a couple guys from my house who were in the year above me. I had an econ study group that I trusted. I was trying to join clubs, but not really loving them.
My grades weren’t what I wanted them to be, though. I felt like I was doing college all wrong, since I’m not into late nights and procrastination, and so much of me didn’t want to come back to UChicago. My parents had no idea how miserable I was until winter break. I didn’t hide it intentionally, but I was really good at telling even myself that everything was fine.
Going back to school after winter break was so, so hard. I called my mom the night I got back to Chicago sobbing. I was so hungry and couldn’t get full, my stomach was killing me, and I felt so sad and so alone.
I saw a therapist at school, as well as a dietitian. They were equally useless. The therapist said since I was more of an ongoing case (chronic pain, mild depression), she would have to refer me outside of the school health system. The dietitian told me that even if I wanted to gain weight I should limit how much I was eating. She told me not to eat too many pistachios. I saw a GI doctor who I thought I liked, but he also wasn’t ultimately helpful.
But academics were better in the winter. Honestly, my classes were just easier by their nature. Multivariable calculus with my teacher didn’t require proofs. My PhilPer teacher was softer and the content more engaging.
Natural Hazards was easy and pretty interesting. I had previously met my econ teacher at a social event so I knew I liked him, and his class was interesting and informative.
My social life also felt better in the winter. I was in classes more often, so I saw and interacted with people more, forming those casual I-know-you-from-class relationships. A girl a few years older than me in my house practically dragged me out of my room and we became good friends, and I’m grateful to her for helping pull me out of my isolation. She told me I should do my work on the landing outside her room. It sounds weird, but just being exposed to people as they passed by helped, and several of my college friendships came from hanging out in that space. My econ study group lost several members and gained one, but it still existed.
I’m sure the quarter had low points, but I truly don’t remember that many of them because I kind of thought things were falling into place.
When I got back from spring break, I rushed the business frat, got a pledge, and decided to drop the bid because I realized it didn’t feel like a good use of my time and money. I had my first bad date. I got suckered into taking the first major class for economics by my silly study group. I learned what linear algebra is. Don’t ask me, but I swear I know.
I also started dating my best friend at UChicago. To give credit where it’s due, he was a lot of the reason my winter quarter was good. He was an athlete and understood superficial things like my early morning schedule and love of food, and he was a lot like me, so he also got heavier things like my anxiety and intense work ethic.
We worked so well as friends. Like I said, he was such a good part of my late fall and winter. Over the course of the spring, with a lot of hard conversations with other friends, I realized that “friends” was probably a much better place for us to be. We were far too similar in some ways to get along, and far too different in others. I also knew him well enough to know that wasn’t going to be an option, and I can’t tell you how much that hurt for me, because I adored spending time with him. I had to leave campus before his last final, though, so I opted to wait out the summer and see how I felt. I knew, but I took the easy way out here.
I was a bank teller that summer, and while I didn’t love that (at all), going back to UChicago was still pretty tough.
One of the best things I could have done before second year was become an Orientation Aide.
I know that sounds silly, but the class under me in my house contains a lot of very cool people and this gave me the excuse to get to know them all. It gave me a chance to move back and settle in a week and a half before classes started. Also, as I have said before, being an O-Aide is an ego boost because you feel like you know what you’re doing in comparison to all the new college students. And finally, I got a little closer, if only for a few weeks, to the other O-Aides in my own class.
At the beginning of my second year, I broke up with said boyfriend. It was hard and I agonized over it for weeks, but, as I said, it was necessary for me. I was terrified I would lose a lot of other friends because we had so many mutual ones, but they were all so understanding, and I can only think of one person I never spoke with again, and that was a relationship I was honestly happy to lose.
It was awkward to live so close to an ex, but it was harder to lose my best UChicago friend. I wanted to believe that wasn’t what would happen, but I knew it would.
My living situation was bad for a lot of other reasons, though. To make a very long story shorter, I got along pretty well with my roommates in that we could chat about life and be friendly. Even so, the apartment saw a lot of loud late nights and was never as clean as it needed to be for me to find it livable. Think hair all over the apartment floors, a cleaned-twice-all-year bathroom, and an oft-overflowing-with-dishes-and-food-scraps kitchen sink.
I wasn’t expecting anything crazy… just a clean enough bathroom, dishes done within a couple days of using them, and the counters to not have crumbs and egg splatters on them all the time. But no. I did 95% of the kitchen cleaning, took out 95% of the trash, and used the communal bathroom on our floor instead of our private bathroom because I wasn’t going to be the only one to clean our bathroom, too.
I ended up hanging out at the nearby Hyatt Place way too often in order to get away from my mess of an apartment, and I got to know the staff there well. They were always so nice to me, and I’ll miss it there a lot more than my dorm.
This was the first time I really noticed how beneficial it was for me to get off campus and/or have non-UChicago activities and friends in Chicago. UChicago isn’t in the city, but in a neighborhood on the South Side, and if you don’t make the effort to leave, you can find yourself feeling like the whole world is made up of overcaffeinated, sleep-deprived 20-year olds contemplating the deeper meaning of Aristotle and spending hours proving calculus. Blogging, running, yoga, and (eventually) exploring the city introduced me to a bunch of new people and got me out of the UChicago bubble, which reminded me there’s a lot more to the world.
But back to my apartment. My roommate and I took turns leaving passive-aggressive Post-its on the kitchen counters for one of the other girls to see and hopefully do something about because she was never around, except to make a mess. Very healthy.
I also decided to make second year my “hell year” and cram my econ major core classes into the year. It was rough. It involved a lot of algebra – and not the kind of algebra you’re picturing from high school. Within a few weeks with an excellent-but-tough econ teacher at the beginning of the year, I was soooo considering changing my major. Obviously I didn’t, and I’m honestly glad. I didn’t because 1.) I didn’t want to find a new study group and 2.) I’m stubborn. All that said, I really appreciate economics and I’m glad to have let myself struggle through so much of it.
Between all the econ – we’re talking 12+ hours of working with my study group per econ class per week – and such a stressful living situation, it was just a super difficult year.
I kept dealing with the emotional eating and constant hunger, but I was fine. I knew I didn’t love college and started to accept that. I still struggled with a love/hate relationship with UChicago.
I didn’t know how I could want to stay somewhere that made me feel pretty dumb and alone half the time, but I still loved some aspect of the challenge, the stunning campus, and sometimes it really felt like exactly where I belonged. I had met plenty of people there who felt similarly at times, and that was part of what I liked. Even if we didn’t all know each other, we were all sort of in this thing together. I could have left and gone somewhere else, but that didn’t come with any guarantees of sunshine and rainbows. I never knew if I was doing the right thing, and that sucked.
However, I was doing alright. I realized that I am an average to slightly-above-average UChicago econ student, and that no matter how much I studied, I was never going to be the best. I got pretty comfortable with that, and by the end of the year, this realization made me feel like I could maybe ease up a little when it came to my academics. I realized that I was, in fact, not doing a thousand times worse (academically and mentally) than everyone else at UChicago, but I was actually doing quite well.
Good things included getting connected with the company for which I’ll be working come August (they are fairly sensitive about employee social media, so while I’ve mentioned the name before, I’m going to wait to do so again until I’m clear on the rules), befriending Susie, having a kitchen and cooking almost all my meals, knowing the first years, and finishing the econ core.
Going into my third year, I was so excited to take econ electives. I was looking forward to a better living situation, in the same apartment as last year but with three girls from my house in the class below me. I was also preparing to run a half marathon, so I had something concrete to focus on outside of school.
And it was, in many ways, a better year. We had an incredible grad student family living with us, so even though I wasn’t as involved with the house (I just handled the money), I still felt inclined to hang out with them sometimes. I really like all my roommates from that year, and I loved getting more immersed in the Hyde Park CorePower community and making new friends there through yoga teacher training.
I gained a lot of confidence in econ and started to feel like it actually made sense. I took my first econ class without any of the guys I usually took econ with, and that was a step outside my comfort zone because I had to connect with different people to get the problem sets done, but that was one of my favorite classes, even if it was tougher than expected.
I also had a couple nagging injuries that sucked, and the running plus tons of yoga was hard on my body. I was sore and stressed and the all-the-time hunger intensified with all the activity. I finally gained weight, though, and started to get used to my “new” body as I built muscle and started to think of myself as a bit of an athlete for the first time in my life.
I got my summer internship before Thanksgiving and was freaking ecstatic.
Despite dealing with a ton of anxiety and some depression, I got a sudden surge of confidence that told me I should go abroad. I had talked about it a lot with my roommate, who had done it the summer before, and it just sounded SO GOOD.
I know there were rough parts to this year. I couldn’t feasibly balance the second round of yoga teacher training with school in the winter, which was disappointing. Two “easy” econ electives turned out to be not so easy. (One ultimately made sense and I felt like a rockstar in it – see “one of my favorite classes” above. One ultimately didn’t and I totally didn’t deserve the okay-ness of the grade I received.)
Overall, though, it’s the year I loosened up and stopped keeping myself inside and studying past the point of fruitfulness. It took a while, but I also learned how to usually give myself what I need, whether that’s Netflix and a night off or a trip to the Hyatt Place to really focus on my work. I learned how to acknowledge my feelings, even if I didn’t always deal with them as well as I might like. I ran a freaking half marathon.
I learned that I can’t be the sounding board or therapist for everyone who knocks on my door, even though I tried for a long time.
When I realized I’d be going abroad this year, I decided to make the most of my last quarter in Chicago and spend a little extra money and really go explore the city and fall in love with it. And fall in love with it I did.
I’ll get more into what I love about Chicago (plus places you should go!) in a coming post – I think this one is long enough. Suffice it to say that if Chicago could be a little closer to Columbus or if I could apparate, I’d totally want to live there.
And now we’re here in my fourth year. I’m so glad I decided to take the leap and go abroad.
You’ve seen the pictures and heard the stories. I’ll link all the travel posts here in case you want more, but it’s been freaking incredible.
Stratford-upon-Avon/York/Harrowgate | Windermere/Grasmere/Gretna Green/Glasgow | Edinburgh Belfast/Dublin | Dublin/Glendalough | Kildare/Kilkenny/Waterford | Wales | Bath/Stonehenge | San Sebastián | Milan | Zurich/Interlaken | Athens/Hydra
Much like the rest of my time at UChicago, I feel the slight disconnect between me and the other students in my program when it comes to my priorities (sleep, feeling good, getting work done, traveling) and health issues. Also like the rest of my time at UChicago, though, I’ve found the other students in my program to be generally friendly and intelligent and fun to talk to. I’m in a new place, and there’s been loneliness and anxiety FOR SURE. However, especially in these last two weeks, I’ve been working really hard to deal with those feelings productively and I feel like I’ve made a lot of progress. It’s pretty satisfying and I’ve grown a whole lot in the last few months.
In addition to the travel, I’ve also had one of my favorite classes while I’ve been here, but I’ve also had a couple of my least favorites.
In many ways, my academic time abroad has exemplified my general experience (and frustration) at UChicago. By that, I mean that the course content has been quite interesting. My three civ classes have covered a long period of European philosophy and history. However, as any college student knows, the teacher makes the class.
As a result, I have only enjoyed one of those three classes.
My first teacher essentially did not teach the class, asking instead that students give presentations on any topic they wished that was even vaguely related to the content of course. Twenty students giving three twentyish-minute presentations each spread over nine classes didn’t leave much time for learning from the expert. And he is an expert in the subjects we were studying. We know because we googled him and he’s written a bunch of relevant books.
The second teacher was all kinds of excellent. He walked in on the first day and started teaching without even introducing himself, so we never knew what to call him, but he gave the class structure and gave everyone time to talk – but not too much. He was willing to say we were wrong, but was also good at just rewording our answers to make us sound right. He spent a decent amount of time lecturing, and he was great at it. We all agree that we took more notes in that class than the other two classes combined. I learned lots of things.
And the third teacher was probably the worst. He basically came in and told us that he’s no better than us and doesn’t know if he’s interpreting the texts right either, so we should all just try our best together. Except his job is to know the texts at least well enough to explain things to us that we don’t get… and there are a lot of those things when you’re reading the stuff we read. Two students had to lead each of the classes in their entirety. When the student-teachers struggled to get the rest of the class to engage in discussion because no one knew what was going on, the real teacher would just say, “See, being a teacher is hard, isn’t it?” Yes, but we didn’t sign up for it; you did. And you’re getting paid by our tuition dollars.
So while I don’t dispute that all of my teachers at UChicago have been extremely knowledgeable, they definitely weren’t all the quality of teacher I was expecting for being at a high-caliber school. Sometimes, the problem was just having a teacher that was so smart that he couldn’t relate to the undergrads – and sometimes TAs helped with that – but other times, the issue was that they felt disinterested or unprepared, like this quarter.
Still, all in all, going abroad has been a – and maybe the – highlight of my college experience.
People who have known me for a long time would probably tell you they never expected me to do it. I can be shy. I like comfort zones.
But, frankly, everything about UChicago has been outside my comfort zone. So maybe I don’t like them so much after all.
- My first real econ teacher kept telling me I have good economic instincts and should pursue higher math so I can be an academic economist. Little did she know that math is exactly why I’m not doing that.
- Those good economic instincts came back into play during tons of problem sets, when I would tell my study group, “I think it’s like xyz,” and they would say, “No,” and I would say, “Okay, you’re probably right,” and twenty minutes later, they would say, “Oh, yeah, it’s like xyz.” If we were all still in a good mood (econ sessions sour everyone’s mood after a couple hours), I usually at least got an apology for not believing me.
- One of my teachers told me that I turned my paper in too far before the deadline (it was like a day) for as imperfect as it was. Pretty sure I got an A- on it. K.
- I unexpectedly learned someone’s parents were spies. I googled it. It checked out. It felt like I was in a movie for a day. I honestly forgot about it until just now, though.
- You can straight up fail a test and then when it’s all curved, you have a B+. It can happen repeatedly. It will never stop feeling terrible.
- I insisted that a particular professor couldn’t be as bad as his course evaluations said. I lasted in his class for two weeks and desperately looked for another class to escape to. He basically told us how stupid we were for all of class. So productive. I went to talk to him in office hours to find out how I could be less stupid and he almost made me cry by suggesting I was hopeless and saying that unless my whole class was less stupid, I was basically doomed to do badly in his class. What an asshole.
- The same professor suggested that if I wanted a great class where I wouldn’t have to depend on the other members of the class, I should take his other class the next quarter. LOL NO.
- Once, I was in the library and the whole floor I was on was filled with people struggling with the same problem set as me. It was cool. All of UChicago feels just like that, but on a larger scale.
- Intro to Macroeconomics: Winter, first year. This is an easy class taught by my favorite teacher that isn’t required for the econ major, but it really did make the last few core econ classes “click”. It’s more like a typical (non-UChicago) undergrad econ class, so it lays good foundation.
- Natural Hazards: Winter, first year. Everyone needs a physical science class, and this is one that doesn’t have a real lab or any real chemistry. I didn’t want a three-hour lab ever. Or real chemistry. This might sound lazy, but I learned that sometimes there’s no shame in taking an easier way out. Also, call me crazy, but I thought it was pretty fascinating to learn about all sorts of natural disasters and how they work.
- Self, Culture, and Society 1 and 2 (but definitely not 3): Fall & Winter, second year. These are classes that are part of UChicago’s favorite requirement in the social sciences. In the first quarter, we read Marx, Smith, and Weber, and I had a really good grad student teacher who could distill Marx for us (when you’re reading anything other than the Communist Manifesto, he’s really hard to understand) and spent a lot of extra time doing so. The second quarter had us reading, among others, Durkheim and Foucault, both of whom have ideas that are understandable and interestingly applicable to modern life.
- Intro to International Economics: Winter, third year. Everyone said this class was an easy econ elective – I read the evaluations and they all praised the lack of math and short problem sets. Well, apparently the professor saw that and needed to change something. I spent hours with several friends working on these problem sets, and everyone else in the class had the same “problem”. However, unlike a lot of other econ classes, I thought that everything that happened in class made perfect sense and my intuition often worked where my math skillz didn’t. And I finally learned how to use Stata, since the friend who did all the Stata work for my group in econometrics wasn’t there, and no one else wanted to figure it out.
- Inequality: Origins, Dimensions, and Policy: Winter, third year. This was led by my favorite teacher, but included different lecturers almost every class. It counted as an econ elective, but had zero math and was barely an econ class half the time. It focused on inequality with respect to biology, upbringing, economics, medical care, and international and domestic politics. While I’ll never really understand where my average grade in that class came from, I also don’t really care because it was mostly an enjoyable three hours of my week.
- Reading as a Writer: Crime and Story: Winter, third year. UChicago requires at least one art class and it can be really difficult to get one. I had resigned myself to taking a random class (Islamic art between the 1400s and 1600s, if I remember correctly) because it’s all I could get into, but then I snagged a spot in a small creative writing class. It was challenging, since I’ve never done formal creative writing, but it was interesting, the teacher was really good, and I got to read some of my only fiction at UChicago in this class.
- Economics of Sports: Spring, third year. Another class by my favorite teacher. He holds this class for three hours on Friday mornings, which filters out a lot of people straight away, but it was a generally good look at the economics of everything from drafts to the NCAA to the Olympics to sports media. It was also a good full-circle moment because I took the class with two of the guys I took my first econ class with in the fall of my first year and we did our final research project together. Oh, and in doing the research project I finally got some comfort with Excel.
- European Civilization 2: Fall, fourth year. I like studying the Enlightenment a lot, and I had a really good teacher for this (as mentioned in Fourth Year above). I learned a lot, and it was nice to revisit some of the texts I have read in past classes (Descartes, Rousseau) a few years older.
So the last few sections have been kinda like play-by-plays, and I’m inclined to apologize for that because do you really want to read about how I was feeling three years ago?
However, I think in order to get to this part, it’s only fair to give you context. Because THIS is the post I’ve been writing in my head since some night lying in bed roughly the third week of my first year.
I was never not going to college. I didn’t (and don’t) know what I’m doing with my life, but obviously I was going to college to learn as much as I could and start to figure it out.
And everyone would’ve told you I’m made for college. And maybe I am, but I didn’t really love it. In fact, a lot of the time I kind of hated it. I was so ready to be done with it that I planned it all out so I could graduate two quarters early.
I didn’t meet my people in college – those are still mostly my high school friends and my family. My group chat with my high school friends rarely goes more than a couple days without activity. I texted my parents all the time in college, and I called them both almost every day, sometimes multiple times. Is that excessive? Probably, yeah. But it worked alright and kept me as sane as possible. When I had a long afternoon of studying on my own, sometimes I’d just hang out on the phone with my mom, just like we’d do if I were studying at home. Did I mention I have the best parents? I do.
People ask me if I’ll stay in touch with anyone from Chicago, and aside from an occasional Facebook message with an econ friend or old roommate, I’ll pretty much stay in touch with Susie and some yoga friends.
A few weeks ago, I was talking with some people in my French class in Paris and one of the guys mentioned to a girl that he and I were in the same house our first year, something that I hadn’t thought about till then. He said, “Unfortunately for her, we were in the same house…” not because of him (because we agreed he kept his issues self-contained) but because many of the other first years in our house were a disaster. Lots of loud every-night parties and substance abuse and sexual harassment.
Part of the appeal of UChicago is that they have this house system (like Hogwarts! Or Yale!) where you hopefully make some good friends. My house during my first year was 85% not for me. So that was one UChicago “pro” that turned into a “con” in my case.
Similarly, the faculty members that lived in my dorm were really rude to me specifically and others in general, and that made the environment rather tense.
Fortunately, I hadn’t had a bad experience with them yet in the first few weeks of my first year, so I went to one of their first events. (I stopped attending them about halfway through first year, even when they sounded interesting, because I don’t tend to throw myself into toxic environments.) They held monthly salons where a few professors gave a mini TED-style talk about whatever they wanted, and that’s where I connected with my favorite teacher at UChicago.
He talked about sports econ to the room at large, and then I walked up to him and we started talking about sports. We talked for an hour, and he offered to let me audit his class for the quarter. I went a few times when I had space in my schedule, and proceeded to take three other classes from him (all three on my Favorite Classes list) and go to office hours as much as possible. Allen Sanderson is known for being a bit brash and controversial, and he appears to take pleasure in it, but I loved his classes and learning from him.
I can’t say I had nearly as much of a relationship with my other teachers, but I did have some other really great ones. I also had some not so great ones. I had teachers who pointed me to Wikipedia more often than answer my questions, came to class totally unprepared, or refused to share their knowledge and just forced students to come up with all the answers. Not many, but still too many for my liking, given how low-quality the class experience was for the amount of money UChicago costs and the prestige it holds.
I didn’t really start making more friends until I was in more econ classes, because that’s when I had to collaborate and commiserate with my classmates. Those are some of the people who got me through rough times. If I had to do all my econ problem sets by myself, I’d almost definitely not be an econ major. Many teachers at UChicago teach you about half of what you need to know to complete homework or an exam and expect you to figure out the rest (you’re smart, right?), so if you don’t have some trustworthy people to bounce ideas off and to explain the stuff you don’t get, it really freaking sucks.
I don’t know what I’d have done without the six or seven people I did econ with. I got lucky to meet some of the most collaborative econ majors that exist. If I did x amount of work during the day and needed to go to bed, I could always count on someone to finish the work while I was asleep and I could catch up in the morning. If someone went on vacation, the others picked up the problem set that week. We shared our work really freely, and that trust was the best. We learned many times when we tried to ask other groups for advice that it wasn’t like that with everyone, even though plenty of those same groups later asked us for help. I had always been a solo-studier, preferring individual work to group work all the time. UChicago changed that, and I’m probably much better prepared for the work world because of that.
One of the other appeals of UChicago is the Core. Basically, you get a liberal arts education that’s quite rigorous in addition to your major. The Core is why every first year says they chose UChicago and why every upperclassman in the humanities rolls his eyes at having to take something related to biology.
And while I’ve certainly complained about it, I still appreciate the Core. It’s almost all it’s cracked up to be. It’s what gave me the chance to delve into classical philosophy and famous texts in social sciences and humanities classes without having to struggle to fit my econ classes into my schedule, since both Core and major classes are required.
It gives me the (yes, elitist) satisfaction of saying I’ve actually read Smith and Marx and Freud and Plato. It means I’ve had to struggle through dense, difficult texts and come out alive. Even if alive meant confused as hell and in need of a professor or grad student to break it down.
I learned how to think really hard about ideas that most people never encounter, and to take a text for what it was when it was written rather than trying to project it exactly onto modern society. I think about Durkheim’s collective effervescence whenever I’m at a sporting event or concert. I might still disagree with Karl Marx, but I can also know he was a really great thinker. I truly enjoyed reading Kant, but practically, he was wrong. (They also totally teach you how to name-drop famous philosophers. Kidding, but not really.)
The Core confuses a lot of my friends who don’t go to UChicago because, “When is Plato useful in pretty much any business?” Approximately never. However, the classes I took in the Core helped me understand a lot of historical thought and the way the world works and has worked, and it has taught me a lot about how to think and learn. Do I recommend a liberal arts education for everyone? Definitely not. But for me, and generally for the types of students at UChicago, it’s quite worthwhile.
It was hard for me to admit at first, but I didn’t love college. I grew a ton during it, though. I learned so much and gained a whole lot of independence.
I still struggle with the fact that this thing I was so looking forward to didn’t live up to my expectations. But it really is just a reminder that life doesn’t always go quite as planned. I’m proud that I stuck with it.
UChicago can make really smart people feel very average, and then spit them out into the real world believing they aren’t that good at anything, only to discover that the last few years have been an illusion. This happened to me every summer, and it’s ultimately a confidence booster, even if it’s an ego-crusher first.
I am so much better for having gone to UChicago. I’m certainly humbler, tougher, and more confident, and maybe even a little smarter.
Wow, you’re a champion for making it through all that. Thank you thank you thank you. In the next month or so, I’ll have some posts for you about solo travel/travel planning, packing, traveling as a person with a chronic illness, things I adore in Chicago, and what my plans are for the next few months. Plus, of course, cruise recaps and Christmas fun.
Was college everything you wanted it to be? Where’d you go? What was your major? I’d love to hear a diversity of experiences!
Did you study abroad in college? Have you ever lived abroad?
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